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In this session author and art historian Sanjukta Sunderason discusses ideas in her book Partisan Aesthetics: Modern Art and India’s Long Decolonization with the postcolonial history scholar Priyamvada Gopal.
The book Partisan Aesthetics explores art’s entanglements with histories of war, famine, mass politics and displacements that marked late-colonial and postcolonial India. Introducing “partisan aesthetics” as a conceptual grid, the book identifies ways in which art became political through interactions with left-wing activism during the 1940s, and the afterlives of such interactions in post-independence India. Using an archive of artists and artist collectives working in Calcutta from these decades, Sanjukta Sunderason argues that artists became political not only as reporters, organizers and cadre of India’s Communist Party, or socialist fellow travelers, but through shifting modes of political participations and dissociations.
Unmooring questions of Indian modernism from its hitherto dominant harnesses to national or global affiliations, Sunderason activates, instead, distinctly locational histories that refract transnational currents. She analyzes largely unknown and dispersed archives—drawings, diaries, posters, periodicals, and pamphlets, alongside paintings and prints—and insists that art as archive is foundational to understanding modern art’s socialist affiliations during India’s long decolonisation. By bringing together expanding fields of South Asian art, global modernisms, and Third World cultures, Partisan Aesthetics generates a new narrative that combines political history of Indian modernism, social history of postcolonial cultural criticism, and intellectual history of decolonization.
Hero Image Credit- Chittaprosad, Panel for India Immortal, People’s Age, 6 January 1946. Source: P. C. Joshi Collections. Courtesy of Archives on Contemporary History, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Central Library, JNU, New Delhi.
Sanjukta Sunderason is a historian of twentieth-century modern art, left-wing aesthetics and intellectual histories of decolonization. She is the author of Partisan Aesthetics: Modern Art and India’s Long Decolonization (Stanford University Press, 2020) and co-editor (with Lotte Hoek, University of Edinburgh) of Forms of the Left in South Asia: Aesthetics, Networks, Connected Histories (Bloomsbury, forthcoming: 2021). She is currently working on two book projects – on connected histories of post-partition visual art across India, West and East Pakistan during the 1950s-1960s, and on the transregional aesthetics of freedom during 20th-century decolonization. She lives and works in the Netherlands, where she is Senior Assistant Professor (UD1) at the department of History of Art, University of Amsterdam.
Priyamvada Gopal is a Professor of Post Colonial Studies in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Churchill College. Her main teaching and research interests are in colonial and postcolonial literature and theory, gender and feminism, Marxism and critical race studies.
Her published work includes Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence (Routledge, 2005), After Iraq: Reframing Postcolonial Studies (Special issue of New Formations co-edited with Neil Lazarus) and The Indian English Novel: Nation, History and Narration (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent (2019). Her work has also appeared in The Hindu, Outlook India, India Today, the Times Literary Supplement, The Independent, The New Statesman and The Guardian and she has contributed occasionally to the BBC’s Start the Week and Newsnight as well as programmes on NDTV (India), Al-Jazeera, National Public Radio and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.